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ECS A785GM-M Motherboard

A nice set of interfaces, but somewhat raw BIOS.

November 26, 2009



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Features



The motherboard is based on the AMD 785G chipset (AMD 785G Northbridge + SB710 Southbridge). There are six internal SATA/300 ports (drives connected to these ports can form RAID 0, 1, and 0+1) plus another two external eSATA/300 ports. Just like all motherboards with modern chipsets for the AMD platform, this model has a single chipset-based IDE channel supporting two PATA/133 drives.

The board also has the following additional controllers:

  • Integrated audio (8-channel HDA codec Realtek ALC888S), optical S/PDIF Out on the rear panel.
  • Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek 8111DL, PCIEx1) 10/100/1000 Mbps.
  • eSATA/300 (JMicron JMB362, PCIEx1) supporting one port on the rear panel.
  • System monitoring (ITE IT8726F-S), BIOS supports automatic fan speed control for a CPU cooler and both case fans. You can specify a temperature threshold, when the system starts adjusting fan speed, and Start PWM Value (minimum fan speed until the temperature threshold is crossed). Fan speed grows according to the Fan Slope value (how much fan speed grows per each degree). But the current BIOS version allows to control only the 4-pin CPU fan.

We assessed the analog output quality of the integrated audio system in the 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.2.3 and the ESI Juli@ sound card.


Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.00, -0.01 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -86.8 Good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 87.1 Good
THD, %: 0.0044 Very good
Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A): -81.2 Good
Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %: 0.012 Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -89.2 Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %: 0.013 Very good

General performance: Very good.

Quite a popular codec and a good implementation of it.

Overclocking

Testbeds:

  • CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 810
  • RAM: 2 x 2GB Apacer DDR3-1333 CL9 9-9-9-24-1T for Socket AM3 boards; 2 x 2GB GoodRAM PRO DDR2-1066 CL5 5-5-5-15-2T for Socket AM2+ boards
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200rpm)
  • Graphics card: ATI RADEON HD4850, 512 MB GDDR3
  • PSU: AcBel ATX-550CA-AB8FB
  • OS: Windows Vista SP1 64-bit, Catalyst 9.2, latest chipset drivers

Benchmarks:

  • 7-Zip 4.65 x64
  • WinRAR 3.80
  • XviD 1.2.1
  • x264 r1129 x64
  • FarCry 2 (Ranch Medium)
  • Crysis (DX10, HOCbenchmark, VGA test, built-in demo)
  • Devil May Cry 4 (built-in benchmark)
  • World in Conlict (built-in benchmark)

To assess performance we measure time required to archive a 297MB set of 277 files of various types and convert a 636MB MPEG2 video using XviD and x264. We also measure frames per second in game demos. In FarCry 2 we run tests in 4 modes: low, medium, high and very high quality. The first three modes imply the aforesaid quality level, 1280x720 resolution, DX9 rendering, High Performance. The last mode implies: 1680x1050 resolution, Very High setting for both graphics and system, DX10 rendering. In Crysis we also use 4 modes at 1024x768 and 1280x1024 and run tests at Low and High quality in each mode. In Devil May Cry 4 we run two tests: 1280x720 (High DX9) and 1680x1050 (Super High DX10). In World in Conlict we run test in 4 modes: 1280x720 Low, 1280x720 Medium, 1680x1050 High, 1680x1050 Very High.

It's obvious which modes should be used with integrated graphics and which, with discrete graphics. Note that if a motherboard has no integrated graphics, performance tests are only used to check for serious layout or BIOS flaws and can be reduced to minimum. Vice versa, performance tests are indicative for motherboards with integrated graphics. And if a certain motherboard review lacks certain details, we might add respective test results to make up for it.

To assess capabilities of a motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock test CPUs (which ones depends on board's market segment) to a stable maximum with the help of Zalman CNPS9700 AM2 and Cooler Master Hyper Z600 coolers. At that we use all motherboard features, like CPU core voltage adjustments and, if needed, bus multiplier and clock adjustments (Hyper-Transport, CPU NB, etc.) For RAM we select a clock rate typical for this class of modules by adjusting its multiplier, or clock rate needed to maximize CPU core clock rate. The stability of an overclocked machine is assessed in Windows Vista with the help of AMD OverDrive stability test (all tests are run for 5 minutes). Note that since overclocking potential somewhat varies from one board to another, we are not focused on finding board's exact overclocking potential accurate to 1MHz. We just try to find out if a board hampers in CPU overclocking (due to insufficient voltage stabilizer power, etc.) and see how it performs in atypical modes, including automatic BIOS recovery in cases of overclocking issues (not requiring CMOS reset) and such.

Power consumption is assessed in the light mode (with text editor running) and in the heavy mode (FarCry 2, high quality, 1280x720). At that we enable processor's standard power-saving features. Also, if a board has proprietary power-saving features, we examine their efficiency separately.


BIOS overclocking settings Availability Notes (adjustment range)
Memory timings +  
Memory frequency + DDR3-800 to DDR3-1600
HT bus frequency (multiplier) +  
CPU reference frequency + 200-400 MHz
Int. graphics core frequency + 200-2000 MHz
CPU multiplier -  
Core voltage + +20 to +300 mV
Memory voltage + +10 to +630 mV
Chipset voltage + +50 to +315 mV (Northbridge)
1.20-1.35 V (Southbridge)

CPU voltage adjustment range and some other BIOS options depend on the given processor. We publish results for the Phenom II X4 810 processor and the BIOS dated 24/10/2009.

We were surprised not to see an option to adjust multipliers for cores and CPU NB. Automatic startup with default values would not work in our case. The onboard button to reset BIOS options facilitates the process only a little. For one, the button itself is not installed on the rear panel, but on the board, so it's not accessible in a closed PC enclosure. For two, ECS engineers (unlike ASRock) are reluctant to add an option to save profiles to inexpensive motherboards. So when you reset BIOS parameters, you have to restore them manually.


  CPU Clock, MHz Reference clock (multiplier), MHz Core/CPU NB voltage (according to BIOS), V CPU NB frequency (multiplier), MHz HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz Memory frequency, MHz Notes
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition (2.8 GHz) 3600 200 (x13) 1.45 2000 (x10) 2000 (x10) DDR3-1333 Overclocked with increased core multiplier
Phenom II X4 810 (2.6 GHz) 3380 260 (x13) 1.42 2600 (x10) 2080 (x8) DDR3-1384 Overclocked with increased reference clock and reduced HT bus multiplier

Overclocking is definitely not this motherboard's forte. AMD OverDrive allows to control the multiplier even in those motherboards that lack this option in BIOS, but CPU NB multiplier must be modified in BIOS. As a result, we shouldn't have even expected to see full potential of Phenom II X4 810. But we managed to overclock a processor with an unlocked multiplier to a lower value than we typically did with inexpensive motherboards. It must be noted that in order to reach the DDR3-1384 frequency we had to install expensive modules from Corsair (DDR3-1600), while much less elite modules were capable of this insignificant raise in most other cases.

However, this result did not come as a surprise, considering this simple design of the voltage regulator. On the other hand, there are so many models for overclockers these days that common users, who are not interested in overclocking options, have nothing to choose from. Especially motherboards with interesting peripheral functionality. Perhaps, ECS targeted this very audience.

Performance and power saving

We decided to compare our model under review with the previously tested MSI 785GM-E65 with the same chipset, but equipped with a video buffer (128 MB DDR3-1333).


RADEON HD4850 MSI 785GM-E65 ECS A785GM-M
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 2:16 2:17
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:15 1:15
HDPlay (DXVA OFF/ON), CPU load 26%/3% 26%/3%
Crysis (High@1280x1024), fps 41 41
World in Conflict (Very High@1680x1050), fps 30 29

Int. graphics MSI 785GM-E65 ECS A785GM-M
Archiving with 7-Zip, min:sec 2:17 2:18
Archiving with WinRAR, min:sec 1:15 1:15
HDPlay (DXVA OFF/ON), CPU load 29%/3% 39%/11%
Crysis (Low@1024x768), fps 28 27
World in Conflict (Low@1680x1050), fps 24 22
FarCry 2 (Low@1280x720), fps 28.5 24.0

We added the HD video playback test (similar to what we use to test processors with an Iron Man H264 video clip). That was a good move! Video buffer made almost no difference in games (performance is apparently limited by computing capacity of the core), but in case of video decoding, it apparently offloads a CPU. Both in case of hardware and software-based decoding.

Enclosure power consumption

The power consumption was measured by the wattmeter integrated into the PSU.


Phenom II X4 810 + RADEON HD4850 MSI 785GM-E65 ECS A785GM-M
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet ON) 69 67
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) 81 79
Playing FarCry 2, W 134-189 132-196

Phenom II X4 810 + chipset graphics MSI 785GM-E65 ECS A785GM-M
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet ON) 10 13
Text editing, W (Cool'n'Quiet OFF) 30 25
Playing FarCry 2, W 39-56 35-60

Conclusions

This motherboard produces a mixed impression. On one hand, we have excellent peripheral interfaces, high-quality components, and nice options. On the other hand, the BIOS seems to be buggy (Smart Fan and memory compatibility issues). Let's hope it will be updated. As for now, our recommendations sound like this: if you like the price and functionality, you are not interested in overclocking and ready for a few attempts to find compatible memory modules, that's your choice. As for RAM, choose plain modules without heatspreaders, guaranteed overclocking modes with increased voltage and other overclocking features. Modules' SPD should contain only standard timings and frequencies.


ATI RADEON HD4850 provided by HIS,
DDR3-1333 memory modules provided by Apacer.

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